Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shouldn't we be back by now?

No, we aren't back yet Dear Reader. In fact this episode we're going to share some even more amazing adventures!

When last we spoke, we were enjoying the very best of Croation hospitality in Umag, Istria. Here is another photo of our friend Sara harvesting truffles in Motovun. Motovun is a hillfort which has controlled land access to Istria since the bronze age.


The Gate to Motovun Hillfort 
- this took a while to edit as there were so many electrical and telephone lines strung up and over it!

We had some lovely swims in the Adriatic, the water was very clear and 26 degrees. In Umag there was an old town under the water... 

Sara and her sister took us to up into the hills to Brtonigla for a fiesta. There was a male acapella singing competition called 'Klape'. Great food, great wine, great singing. We didn't get back till very late. My video was pretty crap, so I won't bore you with it. Here is a better sound recording of one of the groups.

The Brtonigla Community cooks up a storm

All too soon we had to wish our Croatian friends goodbye and we loaded up the trusty Panda (now called "The Goat" if you have been following our adventure, Dear Reader) and headed back into Italy via Slovenia to Ravenna. 

Ravenna was once the capital city of the Western Roman Empire and was originally a sea-port built on lagoons like Venice. Today it's land-locked and linked to the Adriatic by a canal. Lovely old town that's looking a bit dishevelled in her old age, but very friendly and hospitable.

Ravenna is famous in Italy for having the burial tomb of Dante Alighieri. Everyone is Dante mad here. Even in Florence there were statues of him everywhere, seeming almost to rival the Medicis at times... even tho' his absence was due to the fact that the Florence city fathers had sentenced him to death. 

Dante's Tomb

There is also another tomb which was of interest to your intrepid travellers reader, and that was the tomb of Theodoric the Great.  A very interesting chapter of history. Read about Theodoric the Great here.  His mausoleum has a roof made out of one huge piece of Istrian stone 20 metres across...

Next stop, Florence!

By now, the weather had really started to heat up. By a stroke of luck and the Princess' astute internet skills we were delightfully accomodated in a spacious apartment right on the river and just up from the Ponte Vecchio. Here is a photo from our window...

 view of the River Arno from the apartment

Florence was pretty much the capital of Europe in the medieval period and was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence was established by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 80 BC as a settlement for his veteran soldiers.

Ponte Vecchio by night

Early Morning. Ponte Vecchio from the Arno

The Duomo of Florence Cathedral dominates the approaches

Roadside altar to St George

 Fountain of Neptune,  Piazza delle Signore

Church on the Hill...  

Lion with Ball


 Hehehe... we've put this up original size just to give you an idea of how big this thing is!

We were lucky to be able to stay here for three days and had a great time. Must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Time and tide waits for no man however, and we were soon enough on down the road to where all roads eventually lead. Roma! 

But that's for the next issue folks!  Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Italy and Croatia

After a wonderful time in Verona, we decided to head, as planned, for Trieste. We had to drag ourselves away as we had moved to a new B&B that was fantastic and had a garage downstairs!  By now the temperatures had started hitting 30 deg C consistantly. Here is a photo of the Princess on our last night in Verona.

Here is a photo of our Fiat Panda in the (really small) garage with a (really, really small) Fiat 500. What great little cars.

Anyway we said goodbye to Verona and headed off for Trieste. Took about 3 or 4 hours of white knuckle driving on the Italian Autostrade. Trieste is very different from the Italian cities we'd been in, if only because it's built out of grey stone and looks a bit gritty till you get used to it. There's a beautiful harbour and some absolutely magnificent buildings, esp on the waterfront.

Plaza Del Unite

The Princess and Venus

There was an Italian navy training ship in port with lots of young things tripping up the gangplank in their high heels and LBDs. The officers looked very young and handsome in their whites.

So after leading The Princess away, we headed back to the main Piazza and then to the old roman theatre. Yes, this town also used to be a Roman town.

Roman Theatre, Trieste

We had intended spending a few days in Trieste, but then received a kind invitation from our friend Sara's family in Sveti Ivan, Istria, to spend a little time with them in Croatia. What a great time we had! The food was magnificent and the hospitality unmatched. Sara loaded us into her old VW van and we hit the road.

  Sara sliding down the bannister...

Here we're having dinner at Konoba Sole. One of the best gourmet meals I've had. Heavy on the truffles, chef and your best wine to wash it down with. Marino and Daniel produce (and cook) most of their own food. What a great night! Here we are sipping on my Basil sorbet!

Rovinj, on Ferragosto long weekend

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Some time later....

Hello world. Well things have been happening. Riots in London and the 'burbs, Conservative parties taking us right to the edge, media personalities behaving badly (and being forgiven, again)... who would have thought? Well, we're back and it's all good news folks. The party continues, damn the deficit! I blame our leaders.

Last we spoke, we had arrived on our friends in Leicester. What a lovely time we had. First up, a bicycle trip out along the canal with our mate Jake!

And then dinner with Jake and Bob at the pub at Foxton Locks.

We also took the opportunity to explore Leicester, which also has a long history of Roman occupation, and some fantastic medieval architecture.

Then bingo, our British adventure was over. Just like that. We rushed and rushed and only just made it onto the flight in time. It's no wonder there's riots. I would want to riot too if I had to drive in London every day. There's nothing better for inducing a white hot fury!

Anyway, we got there and we got out.

Next stop Milan. We obtained a very nice little Fiat Panda and we have thanked ourselves everyday for getting such a small car. Even if it's just because it makes us smaller targets...

I got in the car in the car park, hung my baseball cap on the gearstick and then realised that someone had stolen the steering wheel!

I then got out of the car, walked around to the other side and gave the Princess a clip around the ear for laughing at me in public.

The drive out to Lake Como is best forgotten. It took me about 15 minutes to get the courage to drive over 50km/h on the wrong side of the road. But this was nothing, in fact. Italy is a difficult country to drive in most of the time anyway, because people actually drive on either side of the road. They're all ambidextrous apparently.

They also like to drive in the middle of the road.

The motorcyclists all overtake on the inside or the outside, just get out of my way. The standard method of backing out of your driveway is 'just do it'. Blind corners with an opposite camber on a narrow mountain road in the dark with light rain is actually an invitation to overtake. What red blooded male could resist the challenge!

This is actually a street for driving along. Sometimes two cars. I should have taken a photo with a car in it, but we wouldn't both have fitted.

Anyway, I don't want to sound like a typical German tourist, so I'll just tell you that in all other aspects, Italy is fantastic. Great scenery, culture, food, usually very nice people, clean, warm & sunny.

This is Bellaggio, on the other side of the lake to Lenno, where we were staying, and where George Clooney lives when he's in town. 

Just around the corner from our place.

The local ferry

The best way to see the lake was on this boat, as it goes to all the little towns along the shore on both sides and it doesn't cost much. Here are some other shots of places along the way. There's lots more, but not enough time or space!

The reason that we're in this neck of the woods is because the Princess' bisnonno (G. Grandfather) came from a place near here called Chiavenna. One day we girded our loins and got back into the car again to go there. Much easier this time and we'd drunk as much vino as everyone else this time. I'ts a bit like playing pool apparently. You don't loosen up properly till the 3rd or 4th drink.

San Siro, along the way to Chiavenna

So far the weather had been fantastic. Temps in the high 20s and sunny. This day started out with rain and cloud, but finished up spectacularly. It rains a lot at night up here and can take a while to clear some mornings.

The old family house, Chiavenna

The Town Fountain - with Austrian writing on it!

Suffice to say, there's lots more where these came from. This whole area must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. A stunning vista of nature and architecture around every turn (and there's lots of those). Mountains on either side that you get a crick in your neck trying to look at.

Ah, but before we go, a photo of the princess in her office attending to business....

This is the view from our apartment in Lenno. A newly renovated 14th Century house built onto the side of a Roman wall (circa 200 AD) called L'Ulivo.

All too soon our rental came to an end and we were forced to migrate south, to Verona. Luckily we'd found a great BnB right next to the Arena in the centre of town. This is a Roman amphitheatre which is not only still standing, but still in use! We went to the local opera's performance of Aida that night.


The next day our friend Yarima arrived on the train. We braved the local traffic again, aided by the trusty iPhone and navigatrix and then we were on our way to Venice. 
Wow, beautiful place, but very much like Edinburgh for the sheer number of tourists. They (we) were plague! Trying to take a photo of something was very difficult as the other tourists just walk in front of you to get their shot. I was a bit suspicious of what was going on, so decided to take a photo of a very boring house. Sure enough someone jumped in front of me to get the picture. R+1 was all weirded out, but thankfully had the companionship of two beautiful women who helped him keep a sense of humour. 

All in all a great day, but very tiring with the crowds. Next day we got up early (9am!) and headed North, to Lago di Garda, which is not quite Lago di Como, but very picturesque and a little more modern. We had a lovely lunch, a swim and then shopping in the market, followed by beer at the Lido.

Then at the end of the day, we chanced it in the Panda (now affectionately known as 'the Goat') over the mountain range to take the 'Tour Rustica' back to Verona.

Back to Verona we partied on till late, again, and actually met some Italian waiters with a sense of humour. Next day it was more Verona sightseeing. Woops, haven't actually posted any Verona shots. Here goes....

The Arena

Juliet's Balcony  They both wanted R+1 but it was a bit of a climb...

More props for the new opera... La Traviata... tonite!

Ponte Pietra